Title: "Paths of Destiny"

Spoilers: Up to and including 'Revenge of the Sith'

Disclaimer: Everything is owned by George Lucas and Co.

Summary: Do all choices, at a certain point in time, inevitably lead to the same result? If so, what if Mace Windu had listened to Anakin Skywalker and spared Supreme Chancellor Palpatine?

Author's Notes: I know that it's been two months since Star Wars, but this plot idea just wouldn't let go. I've finally sat down and gotten this down on paper. I got the idea when I thought I noticed Mace Windu hesitate briefly when Anakin pleads with him to not kill Palpatine. Depending on the reactions from any readers out there will determine if I finish this.

This has not been betaed, and I've tried to look for errors, so please be gentle.

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Chapter One

Jedi Master Mace Windu is considered the greatest swordsman in all of the Jedi Order, second only to head of that same Order, Master Yoda. In the three years encompassing the duration of the Clone Wars, Mace had traveled the length and breadth of the galaxy in his missions against the Separatist rebels. In that time, he'd seen so much destruction and loss of life; planets destroyed or whole populations wiped out – not to mention the incalculable loss of his fellow Jedi as the led the Clone armies. What did it matter to the rebels if a thousand battle droids were lost, when the result led to the death of several Jedi generals? Droids could be repaired and manufactured; a Jedi took almost a generation to come into his or her own. What was considered a fair trade for one side was a grievous loss to the other.

Mace had lost count as to the number of friends he'd lost during the war. But even as the ranks of the Jedi had dwindled, he'd still believed that the war was necessary in order to preserve a Republic that had stood for thousands of years. It had also been believed that the highest ideals of the Republic were personified in none other than the leader of that same institution – Supreme Chancellor Palpatine.

Yes, there was corruption in the Senate and more and more power was being legislated into the Chancellor's hands, but it had been argued – and supported by the general public – that in order to stave off the inherent bureaucracy in the system, decisions had to be made quickly in order to effectively fight the war. It was the only system they had, and Jedi were not about to endorse the kind of government proposed by the Trade Federation, Intergalactic Banking Clan and least of all, Count Dooku.

The only hope any of them had was to end the war as quickly as possible. Only then would the Supreme Chancellor release his emergency powers and return them to the Senate. It had been the one hope Mace had left in his faith in the Republic.

Who knew, however, that just as the war had come to an end, just as Master Obi-Wan Kenobi had delivered the killing blow to the droid General Grievous (and thereby destroying the bulk of the Separatist Droid Army), that hope had been only been for a hideous lie:

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, the one perceived by the entirety of the Republic as the protector of democracy…was, in truth, the Sith Lord the Jedi had been hunting for thirteen years since the death of Qui-Gon Jinn.

Mace had looked deeply into the eyes of the one man who told him this startling revelation. There he had found fear, anguish, torment, betrayal…but no falsehood.

Even when confronted with the horror of the truth, Mace still had not immediately believed it. But with that last bit of information, however, everything had made a sickening form a sense: the threat from the Separatists, the creation of the clone army, even the Clone War itself – all of it made possible by Palpatine (no, Sidious) and Count Dooku orchestrating the war, extending the it for as long as possible.

Time had been against them. If the revelation of Palpatine as the Sith Lord had been allowed to go ahead unfettered, it could only have meant the information was no longer considered important or dangerous to him. Mace would have been damned if he didn't at least try to bring the man down. Masters Kit Fisto, Agen Kolar and Saese Tinn had all joined Mace as they flew to the Chancellor's Palace.

What Mace had not fully comprehended was how deep-seated and powerful the dark side could be. He and the others had surrounded Palpatine, lightsabers out and at the ready. In the span of mere seconds, however, all the masters had been slaughtered with only Mace to fight off the Chancellor who had suddenly produced a lightsaber of his own!

The Chancellor was unlike any opponent Mace had ever fought, organic or otherwise. Although fierce and short, the battle had ended with Palpatine disarmed and lying on the floor. Before Mace could have done anything else, he had been suddenly enveloped in torrential lightning fueled by fury and savagery. Without thinking, he had slowly, painfully, redirected it back at the source. Before his eyes, Palpatine's skin had burned to ashen grey, his eyes had turned a sickly yellow and his voice had been reduced to a harsh whisper.

Just as quickly as it had started, the Force Lightning faded away, leaving a whimpering Palpatine begging for mercy and help. Throughout the Clone Wars, Mace Windu had had to kill the enemy when there was no other recourse. Each death, however, had touched him deeply since he could feel it resonate in the Force. Now, here, with his lightsaber mere centimeters from the throat of the man who had orchestrated so much misery and devastation, Mace felt something he would never have admitted to: he relished the thought of this one justifiable death by his own hand.

"I'm going to end this, once and for all!" Mace said, his eyes blazing. And he would have struck the killing blow – had not a certain Jedi Knight spoken up at that exact same moment.

"You can't," Anakin Skywalker said. "He must stand trial."

Mace's gaze flickered over to catch Skywalker standing close by. He felt somewhat relieved that another Jedi had arrived, yet extremely annoyed that Anakin had not heeded his command to stay back at the Temple. He frowned at the almost pleading look Skywalker gave him. He knew Palpatine had been something of a mentor to the young man – how else could he have received a seat on the Jedi Council? – but couldn't he see how dangerous the man was? Didn't he trust his own eyes to what they just witnessed with the attack on him just a few moments ago?

"Anakin, a trial would be a farce," Mace said. "He's placed his own people in the courts and has an overwhelming majority in the Senate - he has total control of both!"

Palpatine continued moaning and mewling. Although not quite disregarding the humming saber so close to his throat, his eyes slid calculatingly from Windu to Skywalker.

Mace turned back to Palpatine, disregarding Skywalker's entreaties. All that the Jedi Master could see were all the worlds that this war had taken place on in his mind: Geonosis, Cato Neimodia, Raxus Prime, Kamino, Naboo, Haruun Kal, Praesitlyn, Jabiim and so many others. In his mind's eye, he could see these fields of battle filled with the wrecks of innumerable battle droids, ships, cruisers as well as the dead and dying clone troops grown for the express purpose of fighting them. Worst of all, he could see the faces of all the Jedi lost in the war: fellow masters, padawans he once taught, Knights he could call friends. All gone.

No more.

Without the slightest hesitation, he brought his arm back ready to strike the blow at the monster before his feet…but then Anakin Skywalker had to speak the one phrase that cut through Mace's resolve:

"It's not the Jedi way!"

Almost on its own, Mace's arm just hung there on those very words. An incredulous look flicked through his eyes as, unbidden, those very same Jedi he remembered could be seen all looking right at him. Would any of them truly want him to exact revenge for their sakes? But this was a Dark Lord of the Sith! he thought. And yet, the faces seemed to convey, aren't Jedi supposed to revere all life, including that of a Sith Lord? From the beginning, Mace had never put much trust in the prophecy of the 'Chosen One', but perhaps…just perhaps Anakin's role was simply to point out to Mace what a Jedi should be like. The Jedi were never an 'eye for an eye' in terms of ideals, and the Jedi Master was not about to start now.

A small sliver of shame cut through Mace's determination and he sighed.

Off to a side, Anakin could only stare in horror as Mace's lightsaber had pulled back to strike at the one man who had information vital to him. His hand slid to his own saber.

Please don't make me do this!

As he stood there, Skywalker could see resolve, confusion, and then finally a reluctant acceptance flash through Master Windu's face all in the span of a second. Although the saber moved not a jot, he could see Mace take a deep breath.

"You're right, Anakin," Windu said grudgingly. "It's not the Jedi way." Still staring at Palpatine, he rifled through his robes.

"What are you doing?" asked Anakin. A small comlink was taken out and activated.

"The only thing I can do," Windu said and spoke into it.

oOoOoOoOoOo

Master Shaak Ti stood just inside the main hangar bay of the Jedi Temple trying hard to school the agitation the currently permeated her ochre and white face. Only her ornate lekku gave any sign to her nervousness. Just over an hour ago, she'd been told by Master Mace Windu to stay behind and secure the Temple. He gave no immediate reason but simply told her that the actions tonight of he and the masters with him would tell if the Jedi were to survive. True to her word, Master Ti ordered the immediate closing of all entrances to the Temple and all available masters sent to key points in the building. All Knights were told to be on alert, even Padawans were given live lightsabers. Then they all waited.

During the interim, Master Ti attempted to meditate to on the Force, hoping it could illuminate some path to what was going on. However, even now the shroud of the dark side made it harder and harder for the Jedi to sense anything. It had only been after half an hour had passed since the masters had left that Shaak Ti felt an almost sudden upsurge in the Force. So powerful and abrupt it had been that Master Ti gasped and had nearly fallen over from her meditation mat. When she had recovered herself, she had found out that others had felt the same outburst as well, and all from the same direction: the Supreme Chancellor's palace.

She had been sorely tempted to break radio silence and find out what had happened, but Master Windu's instructions were clear.

Several moments ago, her relief had been palatable when she received a coded transmission from Master Windu. The message had been curt and to the point: an aircar was to be sent to the main window of the Chancellor's office and all clone troops were to leave the Temple. Confused, Shaak Ti had the order forwarded.

Now, in the completely empty hangar, Shaak Ti could see the aircar coming in for a landing. It landed on the extended platform, which, soon thereafter, slid back into the main structure, the main hangar door sliding behind it.

Master Ti walked up to the car, surprised to see an ashen Anakin Skywalker step out. Her surprise grew tenfold when what looked like the Supreme Chancellor coming out as well…but with Mace Windu's lightsaber hovering dangerously close to the other man's throat.

"Master Windu, what is – " but she stopped suddenly and couldn't suppress a slight gasp as she took a closer look at Palpatine. A horribly scarred face regarded her impassively. Grey, almost burned looking skin looked to be sagging, especially under the eyes whose yellow (almost golden) tinge gave Ti and almost involuntary shudder. But what was most astonishing of all was the sheer amount of dark side energy that literally pulsed from this individual.

What was going on?

She looked to Mace for some form of explanation, but all she received was a quick look that said, Not here. Gesturing with his weapon, he led the man out of the hangar and deeper into the Temple. They took routes that made it possible to avoid any other Jedi who might be curious. Finally, they all arrived to one of many interrogation rooms the Order had set up since the beginning of the war. Mace keyed in a code and a door opened. A large, square table with a chair could be seen inside the white-walled room. Built into the table were several slots next to each side of the table. Anakin couldn't help noticing that they looked almost like the same ones that held the Chancellor in General Grevious' ship. Palpatine docilely sat in one chair and placed his wrists into the slots. Instantly, energy crackled and his arms were now stuck to the table.

Mace waited several moments, to watch for any duplicity on Palpatine's part. However, the man simply looked at all persons in the room and actually sat back in the chair, as if he were enjoying himself for the long haul. Not quite satisfied with the arrangement, Windu led all out. When the door closed behind him, he turned towards his fellow council member.

"Get every available master and have them meet me here in 15 minutes."

Once Master Ti left, Mace turned an inscrutable eye towards Skywalker. It didn't take a Jedi to see the young man thoroughly shaken.

"Anakin, go to the council chambers and stay there until I show."

"But, Master – "

"Now."

Anakin swallowed under the unbending gaze of the Jedi Master. Without another word, he went to the nearest turbolift and headed up. One thing nagged at Anakin's mind as he rode it all the way up the tallest tower in the Temple: Palpatine was now a helpless prisoner in the Jedi Temple, surrounded by every available Jedi on Coruscant – the absolute last place a Sith Lord would want to be.

Why, then, just before leaving…did Anakin catch a look of triumph in the Chancellor's eye?

-Continued-